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Warhammer 40K: What Exactly Is A Rogue Trader Anyway?

3 Minute Read
Feb 21
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With a semi-heretical new book detailing the xenos of the galaxy out soon from Rogue Trader Janus Draik, many are wondering, what exactly is a Rogue Trader?

Rogue Traders are dashing figures that exist on the edges of the Imperium, they cut a dashing swath through the galaxy, tending to be more Rogue than Trader. But where does the term come from? To answer, we need look back to the early days of the Imperium…

Rogue Traders first appear not long after the early crusades, when the Imperium tasked “highly exceptional individuals” with heading out on the Imperium’s behalf, spreading the message, peace, and sometimes conquest of the Imperium, thanks to the powers granted to them by their Warrant of Trade. This document is perhaps the most valuable possession of any Rogue Trader.

A Warrant of Trade is an archaic legal document that details the limits of a Rogue Trader’s operation. Often quite broad, these Warrants give them the authority to travel freely within the Imperium and beyond its borders. This can sometimes include contact with non-Imperial human worlds or Xenos-controlled planets.

Not only that, but Rogue Traders are granted the permission and freedom to deal with these cultures as they see fit, so long as it is in the interests of the Imperium. Upon stepping on a non-Imperial world, the Rogue Trader may claim it for the Imperium by uttering:

“I claim this world for the Emperor of Humanity and his Imperium. I bring justice and truth for the loyal. Punishment and death for the guilty.”

These charters are often hereditary, which has led to the establishment of many Rogue Trader dynasties. Some dynastic families date back to the founding of the Imperium and boast a Warrant of Trade with the Emperor’s own signature. These charters are very valuable and give its owner great leeway. They are tailor-made and unique. They cannot be re-appealed as according to Imperial law and Imperial religious dogma no one is empowered to overrule these persons.

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Certain powerful lords of the Adeptus Terra offer warrants of trade as a bribe to their rivals, especially if those rivals have ambitions for higher station. Being too powerful to come into direct conflict it can be arranged for the individual to recieve a warrant of trade, the honour of which cannot be refused. The rival then must simply walk away into a life of adventure and wealth and no longer causes trouble for their former opponents.

Letters of Marque are similar documents issued more recently. The Letters of Marque are rather restricted in some aspects and controlled more effectively by Imperial authorities. This may be of geographical nature (e.g.: restrict the Rogue Trader into a single sector) or something similar. The more recent letters of marque are not hereditary at all; hopeful heirs must return and reapply for a new charter.

Though a Warrant of Trade or a Letter of Marque grants extraordinary freedoms within the Imperium, they also invariably contain particular conditions; sometimes Rogue Traders will be required to make regular visits to certain troublesome Imperial worlds, or sent to enact military action on world which do not require the force of the segmentum battlefleets. Often however, Rogue Traders will be required to travel outside the established territories of the Imperium in the name of settlement or exploration.

When a Rogue Trader goes, er, Rogue, the Imperium has a powerful foe–but the Inquisition is ready to investigate anyone who crosses the line into heresy or treason.

Learn more about famous Rogue Traders

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